The Next Ad Blocker: Social Media

A new global survey from Nielsen reveals that 33% of American TV viewers said they engage with social media while watching, and 62% of North Americans browse the Internet while watching video programming.

None of this comes as a big surprise -- especially if, like me, you tap into social media during big live events like the Final Four to see if everyone else found Bill Raftery as annoying as I did. I suggested that fellow complainers turn down the TV commentary and listen to the radio instead. Which was kind of cool since the broadcast had a slight delay, so the radio commentators were presciently predicting plays rather than admiring them.

It was interesting to see that some folks watching the games commented on nearly every play -- meaning that they were adept at typing without having to look down at their keyboards. But I suspect the vast majority of watchers used commercial time to opine via social media.  And since there seemed to be a commercial break after nearly every basket, there was LOTS of time to kill before the games restarted. (Hey, CBS, tons of complaining on Twitter about the number and length of ad pods).

Are we seeing two trends that kind of offset each other?  As audiences fragment from millions of households watching live TV to tens of thousands, the networks rely on Big Live Events (sports championships, Oscars, series finales of hit shows) as tentpole events to increase what they charge advertisers, since watchers are less inclined to tape-delay watching BLE.

But when do you get the most social media activity? Of course, during those same BLEs. And I will wager that the vast majority of that nose-to-the-keyboard or touchpad activity happens during commercial breaks. Moreover, I think that having so many commercial breaks during BLEs (that, at least during March Madness, tended to show the same spots over and over ad nauseam) simply encourages viewers to mute the sound and fire up social media. And I will bet that for everyone who takes the time to post a comment, there are dozens more who spend commercial time reading comments looking for the one with the funniest stuff to say about the BLE.

To the social media body count, add in those who desert the TV (or iPad or phone) to head for the kitchen, the bathroom or to make an actual phone call (you remember those, right?).  Of course set-top-box data doesn't tell the networks who had abandoned the screen during commercials, but I assume they have some sort of algorithm that factors "lost eyeballs" into their ad rates (or not?). If so, does it take into account the growth of social media use during broadcasts? It might calculate that as a net positive, since it shows "engagement" with the show. But I suspect otherwise.  I suspect that commercial time is prime time for social media activity and that it has a net negative impact on the degree that viewers pay any attention to ads.

By the way, my tweets about Raftery had no impact on CBS, since he was there to the very end. But my Sonos/radio workaround not only eliminated him, it also rescued me from the broadcast's commercials. That -- and social media.
14 comments about "The Next Ad Blocker: Social Media".
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  1. Sean O'Neal from Onclusive, April 17, 2015 at 11:22 a.m.

    Broadcast television and social media have certainly collided, no argument there.  I think most brands have recognized this and many of them are adapting accordingly.  Twitter is where the majority of these “diversions” are taking place, which is why they have proactively developed solutions for their advertisers to turn those diversions into connections.  Twitter’s TV ad targeting product, specifically, enables marketers to deliver promoted tweets to the audiences who are engaging with those very programs they are advertising on.  Lots of data out there to show this stuff works, here’s just one data point

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 17, 2015 at 1:07 p.m.

    While it is possible that certain advertisers may reap benefits by integrating their social media buys with their TV time purchases, the problem with this is the generally low incidence of tweeting per telecast. Just because one third of the respondents in this survey claimed that they tweet during TV shows while they watch, that doesn't mean that one third of the average telecast's audience is sending or receiving tweets at the same time. Nielsen data seems to indicate that, a few exceptions aside, the degree of social media interaction per TV viewing occasion is quite small. In other words, only a tiny segment of the audience per telecast, engages in such activities. Until those percentages rise significantly and tweeting while watching expands into dayparts like daytime, early evening and late night, the weekends and includes all forms of program platforms and content where ads appear, not just a few primetime entries catering to trendy Millennials, the numbers just wont be there. Whether this will change remains to be seen.

  3. George Simpson from George H. Simpson Communications, April 17, 2015 at 1:10 p.m.

    Why then after Big Live Events do we see reports of astonomical social media interplay during them? G

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 17, 2015 at 1:49 p.m.

    @George, what I said was, exceptions aside, the incidence of tweeting during telecast viewing occasions, was, on average, very small. And I mean small. Nielsen has the findings. The networks and other interested parties have seen them. A few, widely publicized "exceptions" don't prove the case. For most advertiser TV commercial placements ---including broadcast and cable, many dayparts and all forms of content---- the percent of the audience that tweets, or is tweeted to per telecast is tiny. A typical national TV ad campaign reaches something like 60-65%of its target audience monthly with an average frequency of 4-6 and the big spenders do a lot better. Say one of the shows that a typical brand uses is a high "buzz" live event, which reaches a "huge" audience---let's call it 32 million people, or roughly 10% of the total population. Let's also credit this show with being a big tweeting event, with 20% of the audience tweeting while the show is on their TV screens. Now that, too, is a gigantic number---or is it? Actually such a situation would yield an in-telecast, tweeter reach of only 2% of the country. If 50% of these---or 1% of the population--- was impacted favorably by the interaction of a tweet ad with the brand's TV commercial---another big number ---you are talking about having an effect on only 1-2 % of the brand's total reach and much, much less of its total frequency. I think that it's high time that Nielsen published some meter-based audience data for tweeting during shows. What's the overall per-telecast average for the percent of viewers engaged in tweeting while "watching"? How does this vary by show type, daypart, network type, etc? All together, how many people tweet while watching any show per week, per month, per year, etc? How about demographics? I think that the findings from such an analysis would surprise many and be a great service---and a reality check for many of us. How about it, Nielsen?

  5. George Simpson from George H. Simpson Communications, April 17, 2015 at 1:55 p.m.

    The whole column is about Big Live Events (your "exceptions aside") I don't mention day to day anywhere. No one really knows the real numbers but you can be sure that social media use (or other online activities) during Big Live Evenrts is only going to go up.

  6. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, April 17, 2015 at 2:08 p.m.

    Aside from the numbers and possible reach of Twitter and the audience paying attention to one medium or the other, most advertisers' use of Twitter is irrelevant to the medium or the discussion. What they call engagement is really "BUY ME" messages in the middle of conversation about whatever the BLE is. Rather than engaged, they come across as clueless. "Hey sports fans, buy this sandwich now" just doesn't cut it any more.

  7. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 17, 2015 at 2:40 p.m.

    @George, your whole piece is about an atypical situation---the "big live event" which garners an "astronomical" amount of tweeter activity. That's fine with me. I'm merely reacting to the opening paragraph which sets the stage for the rest of the piece by pointing out that unusual cases aside, tweeting is not nearly as big a deal as the Nielsen "golbal" study implies. As for the occasional BLE, I think you are correct, tweeting during such events is most likely to increase--short term---- as it constitutes a fad of the moment. Whether this will peter out is another question---most fads eventually do. As for the "astronomical" number of tweets, I'd like to see some real numbers on this and, especially, the effects---positive or negative---on TV ads. By the way, I share your suspicion that tweeting during BLE's may diminish the viewer's inclination---such as it is---to pay attention to the commercials.

  8. William Hoelzel from JWB Associates, April 17, 2015 at 7:10 p.m.

    I don't see where the Nielsen survey (first graf) focuses on Twitter and tweets.  I think it says social media -- Facebook (two-thirds of Americans use it), LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest and so on.  I don't think anyone measures Facebook usage (postings, readings) during TV commercials, whether regular btoadcasts or BREs.  It looks to me like all we know is that a third of TV viewers use social media during commercials.  Right?

  9. John Grono from GAP Research, April 17, 2015 at 7:44 p.m.

    George, I'm with Ed on this one.

    To follow up his BLE example of 32 million people watching live.   Let's also say that as it is a BLE it runs for 2 hours.   The 32 million represents the average minute audience across those two hours.   Put another way that is 3.84 billion viewing minutes during the BLE.

    Let's also say that the average tweet interaction (per tweet) is 1 minute (which I think is being generous.   Even allowing for the discrpancy between tweet posts and tweet reads, that would mean the entire US population would need to tweet around 13 times during the BLE or around 10% of its duration.

  10. George Simpson from George H. Simpson Communications, April 17, 2015 at 8:13 p.m.

    You guys are so literal - must come from being researchers - to simplify: an increasing number of people are engaged with social media while watching TV (or video if you will). I think they do most of it during commercial breaks. IF I am right and the trend grows how will it impact what the content producers can charge? Or I am wrong (again).

  11. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 17, 2015 at 8:22 p.m.

    There's a very interesting study by the Committee For Research Excellence ( CRE ) on the subject of social media interaction while watching TV. Instead of asking respondents generalized questions, they took a sample of about 1660 persons aged 15-54 and got them to log any times they watched a primetime TV show for a 21 day period and, at the same time, engaged in social media interaction. Their entries were submitted via a mobile app provided for each respondent. So, in effect, CRE created a sample of people who were most likey to be involved in social media ( adults aged 55+ were excluded ), and the most buzz worthy programming--- primetime at the outset of a new TV season ( Fall 2013 ) when many new shows were premiered---and tracked their interactions. Here are the basic findings. All told, 84% of the sample, across a 21 night span, recorded no social media activity while watching TV shows; only 7% engaged in such activity with the show they were watching being the focus of their social media intercation. While it was true that premiere telecasts of new primetime series and specials garnered far more than their share of social media interaction, the overall findings were a far cry from what you might expect from reading many of the other surveys which poll people on this subject on a  non- show- specific basis. One can only wonder what the results would have looked like had CRE included older adults and all TV dayparts/program genres. If the total TV audience and viewing experience had been the focus of this study, the degree of social media interaction would have been much smaller.

  12. John Grono from GAP Research, April 17, 2015 at 8:53 p.m.

    George, yes 'television' is fragmenting with the seemly never-ending increase in both available channels, video capable devices. and distribution channels.   The total quantum of viewing is barely changing (and maybe even increasing slightly) but is spread much more thinly.   No argument at all.

    I can't comment on the number or ads per hour in the US as I don't have the data, and here in Australia we have a regulated market.    Mind you it SEEMS like it is increasing but that is probably an increase in 15-second ads over 30-second ads - same break durations but more ads.
    I also totally agree with your additional comment that "an increasing number of people are engaged with social media while watching TV".

    But what I am querulous about is the comment in your original article "But I suspect the vast majority of watchers used commercial time to opine via social media".    There is simply no evidence apart from selective non-representative small scale observation.

  13. George Simpson from George H. Simpson Communications, April 17, 2015 at 9:38 p.m.

    And that John is why this is an opinion column and not an attempt  at journalism or research validation :0)

  14. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 18, 2015 at 4:36 a.m.

    @George, quite right, it's an opinion column and you are entitled to your opinion. What some of us are saying is that based on a certain amount of factual evidence plus logic we don't necesarily agree with your assessment of the extent of social interaction while watching TV----even big event TV. Nor do we go along with the assumption that you and others make that TV's audience is fragmenting to the degree you and they postulate---going from "millions" of homes watching live TV to "tens of thousands". As for myself, I am dubious about the presumed positive interaction between social media ads and TV commercials for the same brands when both are "exposed" to the viewer more or less at the same time. How does that work, exactly? Is one eye focused on the TV screen while the other is looking at the ad on the mobile phone or PC screen? Does that sound right? And how does the "viewer's brain process such, often unwanted information, which interrupets the comminication with his/her social contacts? But that's just my opinion and I'm entitled to it---until some hard evidence to the contrary is forthcoming and I am obliged to alter my views.

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